Michele Bullock: Household indebtedness and mortgage stress

Address by Ms Michele Bullock, Assistant Governor (Financial System) of the Reserve Bank of Australia, to the Responsible Lending and Borrowing Summit, Sydney, 20 February 2018.

Central bank speech  | 
26 February 2018

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today. The title of the summit, 'Responsible Lending and Borrowing - Risk, Responsibility and Reputation', really struck a chord with me because there has been much discussion over the past few years about housing prices and the increasing debt being taken on by the household sector.

The Reserve Bank's interest in this area springs from both its responsibility for monetary policy and its mandate for financial stability. From the perspective of monetary policy, high debt levels will influence the calibration of interest rate changes. The more debt households have, the more sensitive their cash flow, and hence consumption, is likely to be to a rise in interest rates. Households with higher debt levels may also sharply curtail their consumption in response to an adverse shock such as rising unemployment or large falls in house prices, amplifying any economic downturn. My focus today, however, is on the potential risks to financial stability from this build up in debt. One of the key issues we have been focusing on is the extent to which rising household debt might presage stress in household budgets, with flow on effects to financial stability and ultimately to the economy. There has been a lot said and written about this issue in recent times, using a multitude of data sources and anecdotes. What I hope to do today is to put this information into some context to provide a balanced view on the current and prospective levels of household financial stress, and hence the implications for financial stability.